Contract speaks with Mike Butler from Mike Butler Inc. about the thinking process behind his photography. From Bangkok to Colombia, Butler brings his own understanding of lighting and composition to architectural photography. (Read about his shoot at Talk Contract.com)
Photographer: Mike Butler
Company: Mike Butler Inc.
How and why did you get into the field of photography?
While living in Bangkok, Thailand during my high school years, I was drawn to the vibrant colors laid against the rapturous landscape of the city--monks draped in orange robes in the early morning light, smog-filled city streets packed beyond the breaking point set against golden temples all stewing in the infamous Bangkok heat. I found the best way to capture this graphic discontinuity of the city was through the lens. I could move about within city walls experiencing these sights from a new perspective. It is from this new perspective, and the creation of that vision into a physical construct, that led me to embrace photography as a medium.
How would you describe your style, and how has it evolved from previous years?
I am always hesitant to frame my style as one thing or another as it is always progressing and changing. That being said, when I have a job I really like and head full force into it, the work tends to have very complex compositions which allow the viewer a glimpse into a totally created world. A world created by multiple lighting setups, arranged so when the image is pushed through post-production, each piece fits and allows the image to come to life. I began working with 4 by 5 chrome film in the late 90s with all its formalities and lethargically slow workflow. The images staring up at you from the light table were beautiful to look at. But as scanners came of age I quickly realized the benefits of arranging multiple exposures together in Photoshop, and led the industry into this new paradigm. Since then, my workflow and combinations have grown increasingly complex, evolving to include just about every principle I could think of. This allows the images to grow in complexity, and at the same time reduces the production time. This type of image production has a down-the-rabbit-hole quality, as the only barrier to further aesthetic summits is my endurance and creativity both onsite and during post-production. Like a painting drawn one line at a time, my images have evolved organically from the static 4-in. by 5-in. chrome one-shot into mind-numbingly complex lighting and compositional masterpieces.
What was your favorite architectural shoot, and why?
My favorite shoot hands down would by my latest project, which was done in Bogotá, Colombia. The complexity of the photographed structure--and the extremely complex and frankly dangerous logistical nature--really pushed me and my crew to the limit. It is always a wonderful feeling to personally envision, fund, and then successfully execute a project so outrageous that only a handful of people would even think of attempting it. It is in this moment that I am creating something totally unique, in scale and execution, a set of non-reproducible images that will be as close to my autocratic vision as any set could ever be.
What are the most interesting features of a building to you, and why?
To be honest, most of the buildings I see are boring utilitarian boxes that bedazzle the mind with their lack of scope or vision. That being said, once in a blue moon I do come across something wonderful, and what makes these buildings wonderful, are the lines thoughtfully and skillfully drawn out by an architect. It is the way these structures are built around the human figure, allowing us to feel the specific volume and vernacular of the space creating a private dialog created between the building and the individual within it.
Is there a photographer whose architectural shots you admire? If so, who?
If there is one person whom I would say I truly admire, it would be my mentor and long time friend Dan Forer. His work exemplifies the highest achievement of aesthetics and technical mastery. His work gave me the rock solid foundation from which to grow and expand upon in my own unique way. The expansion for my current work comes almost exclusively from outside of the photographic field, relying instead on my ever vibrant curiosity, nature, and, at times, other artists such as painters and alike. The images must be discovered through self-exploration, techniques found though the progressive building of technical principles and allowing the inherent aesthetics to grow more complex with age.
Are there any architectural sites that you would want to shoot? Which ones, and why?
Absolutely, those would be the Aztec and Mayan temples that dot Central America. I do have one Mayan temple location in mind and will be working on the permits and logistical requirements this year. The reason for shooting these locations is quite simple: Frankly, I think it would be such an impossible undertaking with the equipment, assistants, logistics etc., that it would be the next natural step after my three previous personal architectural projects—that is, Colorado, up-state NY, and Bogotá—productions that became progressively difficult.